Oceania countries could one day compete in the Asian Games, Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) President Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah claimed here today.
It follows confirmation that the 18 countries that make up the Oceania National Olympic Committees (ONOC) will be invited to participate in the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, due to take place in Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabat.
It means that a total of 63 countries will be eligible to compete in the Games which is expected to include at least 12 sports.
An official signing ceremony is due to take place between Sheikh Ahmad and Fiji's ONOC President Robin Mitchell in November during the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) General Assembly in Bangkok.
Sheikh Ahmad accepted that Oceanian participation in an Asian Games will not happen for some time yet, but, in a process that must be conducted on a "step-by-step" basis, he sees it as more feasible for them to compete at other events.
"I think we have an opportunity," said the Kuwaiti, who is also President of ANOC.
"If it's successful, I think we can also jump to the winter sports, let us do it step by step.
"They have all those athletes in winter sports and they only have the Olympic Games, so maybe it will be the corridor for their preparations."
"Then we will think for further sports, maybe the [Asian] Beach Games because they have very interesting beaches.
"We hope it will be a new success story."
Australia became a member of the Asian Football Confederation in 2006, leaving the rest of Oceania in a bid to gain more experience in a higher calibre of competition.
The move has clearly been a success as Australia have qualified for the last three FIFA World Cups, having previously not appeared in the final stages of the tournament for 32 years.
In 2007, the OCA rejected a proposal to allow Australia to participate in Incheon 2014, with Sheikh Ahmad claiming then that, while Australia would add good value to the Asian Games, it would be unfair to the other NOCs in Oceania.
But Sheikh Ahmad is now keen to explore the new markets offered by Oceania, particularly in Australia and New Zealand who could be potential hosts for several of the OCA's main events.
It is becoming an increasing problem for the OCA finding cities willing to host such mega-events as the Asian Games, which at Incheon 2014 has nearly 10,000 athletes competing in 36 sports.
Earlier this year, Hanoi withdrew from hosting the 2019 Asian Games, citing economic pressures, with Indonesian capital Jakarta confirmed yesterday as the new host for an event that will now be held in 2018.
The 2017 Asian Youth Games is also being moved across Sri Lanka from Hambantota to Colombo due to problems with organising events in the original location.
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